One of the best steam locomotives Marx ever made was its unfortunately-named 666. I have heard, but have no way of verifying, that Marx named it that because the locomotive “smoked like the devil.” And, compared to its contemporary offerings from Lionel and American Flyer, it definitely smoked better than anything Lionel had, and at least as well as anything American Flyer had, while costing a lot less than either.
Marx also produced the 1666, a similar-looking plastic locomotive, that smoked from the sides and the top. Other than that, it’s less desirable than the 666. It’s plastic so it has that disadvantage right away–diecast metal offers a bit more presence, and since metal weighs more, it has more traction, and thus, more pulling power.
The ultimate 2-4-2 Marx locomotive would be a side-smoking 666, and it’s right there in the Greenberg guide, on page 28, valued at a $20 premium over the standard top-smoking configuration. But there’s a problem, at least from a collector’s standpoint. It never came that way from the factory.This is a frequent point of debate, but the old-line Marx experts are unanimous on this one. A small number may have been produced that way as a favor, with a diecast body and sidesmoking motor. But it wasn’t an official, for-sale item. The Marx production records, which still exist in the hands of the hardiest of the die-hard collectors, indicate it didn’t happen.
Perhaps a few were built that way and smuggled out the door, but not officially. And the risk of stealing the parts was a bit high. Think about it for a minute.
The risk of stealing
When I was 20 years old, a friend’s mother asked me to steal a monitor for her from the store where I worked. I immediately said no. That’s wrong, so no. Just no. But she insisted. Finally I said look. Morals aside, it wasn’t worth risking my first job that paid $8 an hour over a $250 monitor. That monitor was worth about a week’s wages. But I needed that job all summer. And trust me, a decade later when I was being investigated for a security clearance, I was glad I had a clean record.
The parallel situation in the Marx factory makes even less sense. How many Marx factory workers would have been willing to put a steady job on the line by walking out the door with a motor assembly that was worth perhaps a couple of hours’ wages? A sensible worker with a family to feed wouldn’t do it. A sensible worker thinking about his or her future wouldn’t do it.
Furthermore, it’s impossible to prove a motor came from the factory that way, rather than a hobbyist swapping it. Swapping the assembly only requires removing two screws, tilting out the motor, tilting the replacement in, and replacing the screws.
So it’s not worth paying much of a premium for a side-smoking 666. Lots of people have them, and if they’re honest, they admit that they got them by swapping the motors themselves.
That said, even though it isn’t a legitimate variation, the price in the book is a fair one for a side-smoking 666. The book assigns a premium of about $20 for such a locomotive, which is about the same it assigns to a side-smoking 1666 vs. a top-smoking 1666. So all you’re really doing is transferring value from one engine to another when you make the swap. Because of course that 666 motor is going straight into the 1666, right?
And if someone tries to sell you a side-smoking 666 at an outrageous price because it’s rare, well, just flip the book open to page 28.